There’s a fine line between an adorably chubby cat and an unhealthily fat cat. Cat obesity is a growing concern. Some studies suggest that roughly 12% to 63% of pet cats are overweight or obese.
In this article, we'll be discussing the symptoms of an overweight cat, the causes and effects of weight gain in cats, and ways you could help your kitty shed some fat off!
Do I have an overweight cat?
"Is my cat fat?" is a question that gets asked amongst cat owners more often than you would think. It's easy to dismiss cat obesity by saying your cat is just "chubby."
But cat obesity is not something that you should take lightly. The first step to identifying if your cat is obese is physical examination. Run your hands through your cat's body and also look at your cat from a top and side view.
Here are some physical signs of an obese or overweight cat you may notice:
- You cannot feel the ribs and spine of your cat as it's under a thick layer of fat
- You cannot see a visible waistline (a slight indentation behind their ribs) from a top-view
- You can see a prominent pouch or bulge at the abdomen of your cat, indicating excess fat storage.
If you notice any of these signs in your cat, the next step is to consult a veterinarian for a body condition score (BCS). BCS is an evaluation value that ranges from 1 to 9 and describes your cat's body fat.
The ideal BCS score is 4 to 5. A score of 6 or above indicates that your cat is overweight or severely obese. The Royal Canin has an in-depth article on how you can calculate your cat’s BCS.
Although you could determine the BCS score yourself, it's best to have your vet evaluate the value nonetheless. This is because your vet is likely to give you a more accurate BCS and can also advise on suitable management options and weight loss strategies for your cat.
Is it bad to have an overweight cat?
Yes. Cats may face a significant decline in the quality of their life secondary to being overweight. For instance, fat cats will have a more challenging time engaging in outdoor activities as they tend to get tired more easily.
Personal hygiene also becomes a concern because overweight cats may struggle with cleaning their back and other difficult-to-reach areas of their body. That being so, they may have greasy hair patches and uncleaned skin leading to skin problems and infections.
Moreover, obese cats are also prone to developing debilitating diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, or joint pain. This will push your cat into a state of poor health and even shorten its lifespan in some unfortunate cases.
Here is a list of diseases that overweight cats are at an increased risk for:
- Congestive heart failure
- Skin disorders
- Diabetes mellitus
- Complications from anaesthesia & surgery
- Hepatic lipidosis (a potentially fatal liver disease)
- Some types of cancer
What causes my cat to be fat?
To help your cat out of being overweight, you'd first have to identify what's causing your cat to be fat. Many factors contribute to a cat becoming obese, but some are more common than others.
Find out the most likely causative factor, and tailor your cat's weight loss strategy to it. Here are a few common causes you can look into:
Like humans, cats need a balanced diet to lead a healthy lifestyle. However, it's relatively common for owners to overfeed their cats without knowing. Usually, an adult cat's calorie requirement is 40 to 66 calories per kg.
Inactivity or sedentary lifestyle
If your cat is eating more calories than it's burning off, it's likely to cause weight gain. Therefore, a cat that stays indoors and lives a somewhat inactive lifestyle is at a higher risk of obesity. This is especially common amongst house cats or old cats.
Diseases or medical illnesses
Sudden weight gain may be a sign of an underlying health issue. Medical conditions that can cause weight gain include:
- Fluid retention
- Cushing’s Disease/Hyperadrenocorticism
Some medications, such as long-term steroids, could also cause weight gain in cats. If you have any medical-related concerns, you should immediately take your cat to a veterinarian check-up.
Spaying and neutering
Spaying and neutering do not directly cause weight gain. However, these procedures are linked to loss of estrogen and androgens (sex hormones) and subsequence reduction in metabolic rate. That being the case, cats without any decrease in calorie intake post-surgery are at a higher risk of developing obesity.
How can I slim down my cat?
Monitor your cat’s food intake
In most cases, feeding your cat once or twice a day is considered appropriate. If you find your cat snacking more throughout the day, you can try to get your cat to cut down on its food intake gradually.
Firstly, reduce the portion of your cat's food in every meal. For example, if your cat eats four times a day, reduce a quarter of every meal portion. Allow at least three weeks for your cat to get adjusted to this change. Following that, you could reduce the amount further until your cat is taking a healthy number of meals per day.
That said, you must understand that your cat may be more hungry on some days than others. For instance, your cat may be more hungry after taking a walk outdoors. Consider increasing your cat's food portion in these situations to avoid starvation. Make sure to always offer freshwater too to prevent cases of dehydration.
Different animals have different dietary requirements. Resting energy requirement (RER) is an estimated daily calorie needed to sustain essential bodily functions. As a rule of thumb, you should feed your cat in sufficient amounts to meet its RER at the very least. You can read more about it and find the formula in this article here.
The type of cat food you're feeding matters too. High protein and high fiber cat food diets may help some cats lose weight. The best option is to consult a veterinarian to get advice on the best weight-loss diets for your cat. Avoid using self-feeders as it increases the chance for your cat to overeat.
Increase daily activity
You do not have to make drastic changes to your cat's lifestyle to encourage weight loss. Alternatively, you could start with smaller steps, such as moving the food bowl to the further end of your house. This forces your cat to walk and move more to get its food bowl. You can also take your cat on short walks to get it to burn some calories.
Weight loss is a slow process and you shouldn’t force it on your cat. Take it one step at a time. Keep your vet closely involved in the process and monitor the weight changes of your cat overtime. And while you’re at it, having a fat cat means your cat has an increased risk in suffering from unexpected illnesses in the future.
Apart from focusing on weight loss, what you can prepare for now is actually getting your cat a cat insurance plan. Always remember that you're doing this for your cat, and it'll all be worth it in the end.